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Houses Out of Cardboard Boxes

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Castiel shows up on their doorstep on the last day of July.

Dean is out getting burgers; Sam is hiding behind the bed nearest the bathroom, afraid something will come for him while his brother is out. The battering at the door is intimidating to say the least, and Sam is actually relieved when he sees who it is, lets Castiel in past the angelproofing and doesn't realize that was the stupidest fucking thing he could do until Jimmy's generic black loafers are stepping into the motel room.

Shit. Castiel is the bad guy now. Sam is almost definitely dead. And Dean is going to be so pissed when he gets back.

"Hello, Sam," Castiel says, like they're still friends.

Sam cowers away, tripping over the mattress Dean has been sleeping on, falling back onto it. Maybe it's just another nightmare, he tells himself. Nightmares happen a lot while Sam's awake these days.

Castiel frowns at Sam's reaction but doesn't move forward to strike. He doesn't smite Sam.

"What do you want?" Sam asks, though he's pretty sure he won't get an answer before he croaks. They've been hunting the angel for months, and Castiel knows better than just about anyone that the best way to stop Sam and Dean from closing out a hunt is to catch them alone. Sam refused to go out with Dean, thought it would be too scary. Why didn't Dean insist?

"I would like to talk," he says, sitting on the bed next to Sam but far enough away not to touch. Sam scoots further from him, and Castiel watches but says nothing.

"Don't really have much to say to you," Sam replies, trying his best not to sound as scared as he is.

"I am sorry, Sam," Castiel says. "I just wanted you to know you and your brother were right. I'm going to fix things now that I have won the war. Heaven is at peace. I don't think it is too late."

Sam says nothing, doesn't know what he can possibly say, because this is not what he expected to hear.

"I'm going to return the souls to purgatory. I will likely destroy myself in…" Castiel looks directly at Sam, and it's only now that he realizes how off the color of Castiel's skin is and the dark circles around the wide blue eyes staring at him, looking every bit as terrified as Sam feels.

"You can't hold it," Sam says. "The souls are too much."

Castiel nods slightly. "I am not meant to be God. I never was. I was simply…blinded. I thought, at the time, that I was doing the right thing."

Sam thinks of the last few months, all the time he's spent screaming in pain or terror because an angel they trusted thought he was doing the right thing. He licks his lips, remembering the iron taste of demon blood, and can't summon all the hate he knows he should be feeling. "Why are you telling me this, Cas?"

"We were friends once. I hope," he pauses to glance out the window, "I hope that one day you and your brother can forgive me."

Castiel leans forward. Sam can't pull away any more than he already has. He can't outrun God. He can't do anything but tremble as Castiel presses a hot, glowing hand against his temple. Sam cries out for help, for Dean, anything, but the help doesn't come and neither does the rush of pain he's anticipating. When Castiel pulls away Sam feels…okay. For the first time in months, Sam's skin isn't lava, his blood isn't pumping acid through his veins, the Devil doesn't smile at him when he closes his eyes.

He feels absolutely fine. Comparatively, it's better than that. Right now it seems like Sam's never felt this good in his life, never even imagined he could feel this good.

"What did you—?" Sam asks, his breath coming heavy. "How did you?"

Castiel hardly smiles, the tiniest curve to the side of his lips. "I'm God now," he says, and Sam doesn't remember him ever sounding this sad, not even when God was missing and Sam was the only person even pretending to have hope left.

Sam wants to thank him, but he swallows hard and looks away instead.

"Get away from my brother." Sam and Castiel both turn to face the door. Dean's face is set in a scowl that would scare anyone, even though the gun he's pointing at Castiel is useless and they all know it.

"Dean, he—"

There's a sound of feathers rustling, and then Castiel is standing behind Dean outside the motel room door. "May I speak with you?" he says.

Sam watches Dean's body somehow get tenser, but he doesn’t let fear show as he turns to face the angel. "If I say no, will you fuck off?"

"Dean, he fixed it," Sam says.

Dean shifts uncomfortably, but he doesn't lower the gun, and the cold line of his shoulders doesn't melt. "Away from him," he says. "You stay away from Sam."

Castiel's eyes settle on Sam. He looks apologetic and a little like he doesn't expect to ever see Sam again. Sam wants to ask, but he can't find his voice. Then the door slams without anyone touching it, leaving Sam inside the room, trying to force his way out so he can make sure Castiel didn't come and fix him just to hurt Dean.

He can't hear through the thick glass of the window, but from what he can see, the conversation is civil enough. Castiel is the one acting like he's been cornered, and Dean's face is relentless, furious turn to his mouth with every word it shapes. Castiel doesn't say much, doesn't seem to have the energy to respond to Dean's fury in kind. His shoulders droop, and he tries to implore Dean, but Dean won't listen. Of course Dean won't listen.

It's not long before he's pushing into the room, slamming the door shut behind him and grabbing the spray paint on the table to touch-up the spot where Sam broke the sigils to let Castiel in.

"What did he say?" Sam asks, standing to put a hand on Dean's shoulder, try to help him relax. Dean is quick to push him away.

"You never do that again, Sammy," he says. "Don't you ever tamper with any of this stuff while I'm out."

"Dean, I'm okay," Sam says. "Look at me. I'm okay. He fixed me."

Dean shakes his head. "After he broke you. I don't trust it."

Sam shrugs. "Maybe he's come around."

Dean stops fixing the symbols to inspect Sam, eyes moving over him quickly. It's the look Sam's seen too many times. Flagstaff, when Dean thought he'd lost Sam; Cold Oak, the day he walked into a cabin and found Sam alive when he shouldn't have been; a hug that Sam saw through someone else's eyes when he was in Hell and Dean thought he finally wasn't. Checking over. Making sure all the parts are in place. Sam was in danger, and now he isn't. Sam hates that he's gotten so good at reading this expression.

Dean doesn't pull him in for an embrace this time, doesn't crack a joke, doesn't even continue his lecture. He just looks and looks, and Sam is going to get performance anxiety standing here if Dean doesn't find what he's searching for soon.

Finally Dean lets out a long puff of air and presses a hand to Sam's cheek for a moment before he's storming away from Sam to the bathroom.

"Don't fuck with the angelproofing," is all he says as he slams yet another door behind him.

_______________________________________________________________

They don't see Castiel again after that.

They wait for something big to go down, some kind of sign that God is back and pissed off and looking for somewhere to vent the power his vessel can't hold. It's not quiet, not quiet enough to be suspicious. Monsters still eat children in their beds, earthquakes still break homes in half, Sam still screams and hides when they see monsters on hunts, because every damn shadow reminds him of Hell. But things are not as bad as they were for awhile. Not like when Castiel was still flexing his brand new God complex and Sam was still crying under the covers every time the air conditioner made noise.

They don't stop looking—that would be sloppy. But after four months of searching without a single new clue or another attack to trace back to Castiel, the hunt starts to seem less desperate. They take other jobs. They find Crowley and waste him. They wait for the next king or queen of Hell to start causing problems so they can gut that demon and the one who replaces them.

Five more months pass full of amateur jobs and the impending worry that God might be just around the corner, preparing to strike them both down for good.

_______________________________________________________________

It's a dark and stormy night, and there's a knock at the door accompanied by a loud clash of thunder. It's pretty cliché as far as 'don't open the door' omens go and would probably scare anyone less aware of the fact that horrible things happen just as easily under blue skies as under storm clouds.

Sam makes sure to check who's outside and waits until Dean has grabbed the nearest weapon to open it. He sees nothing through the peephole, and if he were sane, he would ignore it. Leave well enough alone. Sam is a Winchester, though, so he opens the door and Dean is right behind him with an encouraging nod.

At first, he thinks there really is no one there. The sound of heavy rain filters in, amplified now that there's nothing closing it out. It's so loud that it almost drowns out the crying. Crying that makes Sam look down to his feet where he sees exactly what he'd been hoping he wouldn't see.

"Jesus Christ," Dean says, peeking over his shoulder. "Is that seriously…?"

Sam bends to pick the basket up, and a bright red face sobs from inside. "Dude, it is. It's a baby."

"What the fuck?" Dean asks.

"Don't cuss at it."

Dean stares at Sam as he shuts the door. "Someone just dropped a kid in front of our motel room door at midnight in the middle of a thunderstorm. I'm allowed to cuss."

"Should we…do you think we can find whoever left it here?"

Dean reaches into the basket and pulls out a card. It has their names on it.

"Okay, weird," Sam says, rushing to place the basket on the table and pick the baby up.

Dean tears into the envelope while Sam tries to make it stop screaming. He watches his brother's eyes rove over the words three times before he shakes his head and lowers it. "I thought shit like this only happened in movies."

"What? What's it say?"

"Says the kid's mom was a seventeen-year-old junkie who only went through with the pregnancy because she had a dream and the dream told her she had to."

Sam's eyebrows lift just a little. He looks down at the baby in his arms, relieved that aside from the hysterical sobbing and the fact that it's soaked to the bone, it seems healthy. A miracle, even if they're only taking the thunderstorm into account. "Always a good start. And why does she know our names?"

"According to this," Dean brandishes the letter, "the dream told her to bring him to us. She says that it led her here, and she knows we'll understand why. She also seems to think we'll know what to name it."

"I'm not understanding anything," Sam says.

"Yeah," Dean agrees. "We'd better call some hospitals and police stations in the area, see if anyone's missing a kid."

"Of course," Sam says. The baby continues to yell in his ear and Sam sighs. "If we can quiet this thing long enough to hear what's on the other line."

"Can I try?" Dean asks, reaching for the wet bundle in Sam's arms. He puts up no fight before surrendering and pauses to watch his brother begin to bounce the upset little lump in his arms. He whispers soothing sounds, and, after a few minutes, the baby begins to calm.

"Shouldn't be in wet clothes much longer," Sam says. "We've gotta have something warm we can wrap it in."

Dean nods and lets Sam go looking. Sam grabs every towel out of the bathroom and digs through his duffel before accepting that the best they can do for now is wrapping the baby in one of their shirts.

"It would be too much to ask for that basket to have some nice, new diapers in it, wouldn't it?"

Dean is sitting in the armchair by the window, rocking a sleeping baby. He smirks up at Sam. "Actually, I think I still have three-quarters of a pack and some supplies shoved in the back of the trunk."

"Right. From when…Bobby John." Sam's eyes dodge to the door guiltily. "I can go out and get them."

Dean's lips are turned down at the corners, just enough for Sam to know he gets it, but he doesn't risk waking the baby up with his usual 'it doesn't count, you weren't really you' spiel. It's a relief—soul or no soul, Sam was going to hand an innocent kid over to god knows what, he doesn't actually deserve to be told it's okay.

He's happy to get a few minutes alone after the reminder, even with the rain pounding down as he digs through the Impala. He comes back to find Dean dropping liquid onto the baby's forehead from a flask of holy water and sees a silver chain on the table.

"Dude, are you serious?" Sam says, watching Dean pick up the chain and wrap it loosely around the baby's wrist.

Dean watches closely for a few seconds as neither of the tests causes a reaction and shrugs. "Sorry, man, just had to be sure."

"You're ridiculous," says Sam, shaking his head. "You know nothing supernatural is getting through the door."

"I thought I would be done before you got back. Now drop it."

Sam's fingers curl into fists. Dean is just worried about him, and Sam knows he's right to be. It's more frustration at himself than Dean that makes him so pissed. "You think I can't even handle a goddamn baby monster on my own, Dean? I'm not that pathetic."

"I was just checking, Sam. I had to. You know why I had to." Dean meets his eyes in a silent plea, and Sam lets out a breath, all the fight leaving with it.

"Come on, let's change it and I'll pull up some websites, see if there are any outstanding baby snatchings in the area." Sam drops the diaper bag on the table by the door, and Dean nods.

They do three hours of research, Sam making phone calls and hacking into police records on the computer while Dean sits on the opposite bed with the baby asleep on his chest, the television set to a quiet murmur. There are no reports yet, not in the area, not in the state, not for three states in every direction. Sam starts nodding off and figures the best thing he can do is get some rest, see if something pops up by morning.

Dean is already asleep when Sam turns the light off.

_______________________________________________________________

When Sam wakes up the next morning, the last thing he expects to see is Dean rubbing his eye groggily with one hand and still supporting the baby against his chest with the other. He pats its back, and it doesn't cry, just yawns like it's still too tired for that kind of thing.

Sam thought it had been a dream. An oddly quiet, almost nice little dream. Not the kind of dream Sam has these days. But still a more rational explanation than…

"So that really happened, huh?" Sam asks.

Dean takes one tiny hand in his and squeezes, making the baby giggle and smile a toothless grin. It's kind of precious; Sam wishes he had a camera. Dean will never admit to this once they've found out who the kid belongs to and given him back. "That's Sammy," he tells the baby. "As you can see, he's a little slow."

The baby mirrors Dean's smile back at him, and Sam decides it's not as cute as it was a minute ago. "I hope it pees on you," Sam says.

Dean's face drops and he lifts the baby, inspecting. It looks like the few hours since they fell asleep haven't given the kid enough time for an accident just yet. Dean moves to sit at the end of the bed and holds the baby out to Sam. "You watch him. I'm going to buy him something to wear that isn't sasquatch-sized."

"What? Now?"

"Now," Dean answers as he grabs his jacket and keys off the table.

The baby squirms in Sam's arms, and it hits Sam that he's never actually been alone with a baby before. "Take him with you."

"What, and be the one to get vomited on? I don't think so."

"He likes you more than me." Sam stares at the baby, and it stares right back, an unimpressed look on its face. "And what if I find out whose it is while you're gone and I don't have a car to take it home?"

"I'll be out like 20 minutes tops." Dean pauses at the door to smile at Sam. "Don't you crazy kids get into any trouble while I'm gone."

The door closes behind Dean with a click.

"I guess it's just you and me then, huh buddy?"

Sam's buddy begins to cry.

It takes 40 minutes of pacing the room with the baby (20 minutes tops, my ass, Sam thinks), bouncing him, trying to find something on TV, before Sam manages to calm it down. He gets exasperated, and since baby talk hasn't been working, he finally holds the infant just in front of his face and tries a rational conversation instead.

"Please, please, please stop yelling," Sam begs.

The baby's mouth closes and it blinks at Sam for a few seconds, eerily still, before tilting its head just a little bit to the side. The way he does it…it reminds Sam of Castiel. But that's crazy.

"That's crazy, right?" he asks. "You're definitely not Castiel?"

The baby squirms and smiles at Sam like it knows more than it's letting on, and that's it. That settles it. It's been nine months since Castiel went missing, and the baby has Jimmy Novak's eyes. It isn’t hard for Sam to put two and two together.

"Dammit, Cas," Sam says, pulling the kid back into his arms and shaking his head. "How the hell do you expect me to sell this to Dean?"

_______________________________________________________________

"Did you find out who he belongs to?" Dean asks when he returns.

Sam stands a foot away at the opposite end of the counter, closer to the sink than the impromptu changing table Dean has created in the middle of their motel room.

Well, I have a theory, he thinks. It explains why the baby ended up on their doorstep, why the hell the mother would have dreamed that they would know what to name, let alone do with, a newborn infant. But it's not an explanation Dean is going to believe or like.

"Well, um. No? Maybe? Never mind."

Dean spares a second's glance in Sam's direction before reapplying his focus to the diaper. "Never mind what, Sam?"

"I had an idea, but…forget it. It was a weird one."

"Gotta be pretty weird to put me off, man." Dean motions Sam out of the way so he can wash his hands in the sink and then turns to face him. "Come on, I promise I'll make fun of you if it's really ridiculous."

"Don't you mean you promise you won't?"

Dean's response is a shit-eating grin and the barest hint of a wink. Sam just rolls his eyes and endures it. "He's ours," Sam answers, moving to pick Castiel up before he really drops a piano on Dean's head. "I think he's supposed to be ours."

Dean's smile slips into a confused expression, then a face that clearly means Dean isn't sure if he's supposed to laugh or not. "Who do I have to chase with a shotgun for knocking up my little brother?"

"Dean," Sam groans.

"You did a good job hiding the pregnancy, though, I'll give you—"

"Can you not fuck around please?" Sam winces, pats the baby on the head softly. "You didn't hear that."

Dean snickers, shaking his head. "All right, in all seriousness, then. What the hell do you mean you think it's ours?"

"I think it's Castiel," Sam says. "Or, was. You know, like what happened with Anna when she—"

Dean's face slides from curious and amused to something dark and dangerous in seconds. He walks past Sam, keeping his back turned so Sam can't read his expression. "That's crazy."

"Not crazier than most of the—"

"It's crazy. And if it isn't? That doesn't change anything. That's someone's kid. We just need to find out who and get rid of it."

"Dean, you read the letter. The parents don't want him, won't do him any good. He wanted us to raise him."

"He wanted us to do a lot of things, doesn't mean we did them. Anyway, it's not him. That makes no goddamn—"

"Don't tell me you haven't felt it."

"Oh, come on, Sam. 'Felt it?' Are you gonna bring in The Secret or some shit?"

"Take him," Sam says, cradling Castiel's head and extending his arms out to Dean. "Hold him and look at him and tell me you don't feel like this kid is yours."

Dean doesn't accept the offering, just turns his head.

Sam smiles, more than a little smug. "You already felt it last night, huh? Just don't want to admit I'm right?"

"Sam, if you're right, then that baby is currently Public Enemy Number One." Dean scrubs a hand over his face. "And I am just not equipped to handle that."

"Was, before he fell. Now he's just a baby. Just an innocent kid. Christ, Dean," Sam pulls Cas back into his chest, a little too protective, "you're not handling anything, not if you mean that the way I think you do."

"Calm down, I'm not gonna hurt the kid. But I'm not keeping him around to—"

"To what?" Sam asks, his eyes narrowing to slits.

"Betray us again? As soon as he's old enough to get his grace back." Dean shrugs. "They're all the same, Sam. Anna was different, and then she got her grace and tried to kill you. Cas was different and then…Nope, no way. If that's Castiel, we're dropping him the first place that will take him and getting you as far away as possible."

"It is Castiel, Dean." Sam huffs out a laugh, but he's not feeling all that amused. "Our friend, Castiel."

"He broke your wall." Dean shakes his head. "Fuck that, I'm done taking chances with this. I can't anymore."

"He saved us more times than we can count. It was one misguided mistake, and he mostly made up for it."

"You still remember Hell. You're still—"

"Still what, Dean?"

Dean forces a smile and reaches out to muss Sam's hair. "Still a mess," he says, tone playful to cover up the fact that it's completely true.

"The wall was going to come down eventually. Don't pretend you didn't know that all along."

"He didn't need to speed it up," Dean snaps.

"Maybe not, but I'm better off now than I would have been if it'd broken on its own and he never came by to help."

"It's the thought that counts, Sam. All he wanted to do was hurt us. You."

Castiel gurgles and tugs on Sam's ear, and it makes him want to smile like he hasn't since he got back from Hell. Sam's chest tightens, and he already can't imagine letting Dean give the baby away. "I've done worse," Sam says darkly. "And you forgave me."

"Yeah, but Sam, you were…meant well."

"He thought he was doing the right thing. He realized he was wrong—he tore his freaking grace out in penitence. Why do I get forgiven when this infant that neither remembers what Cas did, nor is really responsible for it at all, gets put on trial?"

Dean looks at Sam but doesn't quite meet his eyes. "Because you're my brother," he mumbles, obviously aware of how flimsy the argument is.

"Then for your brother's sake." Sam steps forward, offers Dean the baby again, and Castiel turns to grin at Dean. "Just hold him and tell me he shouldn't be our baby."

Dean doesn't take him, but he replaces Sam's hand supporting Castiel's head and draws closer. There's a smile on his lips that he's trying to hide, and if Sam can just make it come out, he'll win this one.

"We can't take care of a kid," Dean finally says, sounding put out about it. "We've got a job, and I'm not raising him like—"

"You have a job."

Dean looks up and meets Sam's eyes, and Sam lets his defenses drop. "Admit it, man. I'm not a hunter anymore. I'm a guy who does research and hides in motels while his brother kills monsters."

"Sam, you're always a hunter." Dean's fingers smooth over Sam's, and Sam lets out a breath.

"I'm useless." He cuts Dean off before he can start. "I am, I'm useless. That's not up for debate."

Dean's mouth closes in a tight line, obvious disapproval, but he waves his hand, signaling that Sam can continue.

"And I'm lonely while you're out, usually. But when you were gone today and I was taking care of him? I mean, I was awful at it. Really, really awful. But eventually we got there and I didn't—not once—stop to worry how long you'd been gone or if you were okay or if something was going to come in and hurt me. All I had time to focus on was taking care of him. Dean, it was nice."

Dean leans back against the counter and braces his hands on it. "So, what, Sam? What do you want to do? Quit hunting? Get a mortgage? Take the kid and stay inside keeping house all day?"

Sam's eye dodge down to Castiel and he smiles. "Yeah, Dean. I think that's exactly what I want."

Sam knows this isn't something he can force or beg for—it's too big to go in on unless they go in together. And he's terrified. If Dean says no, Sam will have to relent, have to hand Castiel over to strangers and go back to following his brother around without anything to live for.

Dean's face is unreadable when Sam looks back up at him. He wishes Dean would just say something already. Not knowing what his brother is thinking is uncomfortable enough at the best of times, and this is not the best of times.

Finally, something in Dean's expression breaks; his eyes soften and he shakes his head. "You win this time, Sammy."

_______________________________________________________________

It's not until he's buckling Castiel into a car seat in the back of the Impala the next morning that Sam realizes they have no idea what their next stop is. Neither of them has a burning desire to go live in Lawrence, but it's the only town they know of that means anything like home. Sam's not sure if they're supposed to do research for this kind of thing, Google good places to raise a kid and take someone they don't know's word for it. Or if they're just supposed to drive around with a newborn until they reach a town that feels right. Sam's not having second thoughts, but he is two days in and already wondering if he's a crappy parent.

"You're an idiot," Dean informs Sam the first time he dares to bring that little problem up.

Sam glares at his brother from the passenger seat and scoffs. "Why am I an idiot?"

"Because we don’t have a choice in where we're raising the kid if we're raising the kid," Dean says. "Did you forget what he is?"

Sam sits, considering it for all of a minute before he gets the desire to smack his palm to his forehead. "Shit, Dean, his grace."

Dean snickers. "So there is something rattling around in that giant skull of yours. Good to know."

"What are we doing wasting time in the car, man? We have to find out where it is. Before any of the angels who're still pissed at him get ideas."

Dean waits until they're at a red light to reach over and open the glove compartment. He pulls out a stack of newspapers and drops it on Sam's lap. "Ten steps ahead of you."

Sam scans through the first article, then the second, then flips through the remaining three. Last week a redwood popped up in Southern Wyoming, practically overnight. It's hundreds of miles away from being in the right region and stretches up as tall as the giants in California. The town of Saratoga has no idea where the sequoia came from—they're all swearing up and down that it was an empty field before the tree showed up. Most of the newspapers are assuming some kind of elaborate hoax.

"And, uh, meteor shower?"

"Nope," Dean says cheerfully. "No showers. But I checked the local astronomy sites in the nearest towns and they all saw—you guessed it—one exceptionally large falling star, heading right for Saratoga the night before the tree reports started."

"Wow," Sam says, dropping the papers into his lap. "You really did your homework, huh?"

Dean gives him a cocky smile and a half-glance. "Try not to sound so surprised."

"Why didn't you tell me about any of this?" Sam asks.

Dean laughs. "Because it was too much fun to listen to you angsting over what to do next. And because it all kind of occurred to me last night while the kid was keeping me up and," Dean shrugs, but Sam can read something like excitement in his body language, "I figured if we're doing this, I might as well pull my weight."

Sam turns around and squeezes the baby's feet. He giggles and kicks them in the air. "You hear that, Castiel? We're going home."

"Stop calling him that," Dean says.

"But that's his name," Sam replies, turning his attention back to the driver's seat.

Dean shakes his head. "That was his name when he was an angel. No kid of mine is going through life being called Castiel. Jesus, Sam, there was a reason he was a virgin for thousands of years."

Sam raises an eyebrow. He's pretty sure the reason for that was the whole angel thing, but he decides it's not worth the effort. "What are we calling him, then?"

"Not Castiel," Dean supplies helpfully.

"I guess we could name him Jimmy."

Dean bites his bottom lip. "I think that's the last thing Jimmy'd want. They didn't exactly end on good terms."

Sam sits back. "Castiel wasn't really very good at the whole 'maintaining friends' thing, was he?"

"Guess he spent too much time with your ass." Dean turns to face the baby. "Don't you worry, kid. I won't let the Nerd Wonder over here make you socially awkward. Again."

"Har har, really funny, Dean."

Dean's attention is back on Sam, a grin taking up half his face. "Well, thanks, Sammy, I thought so, too."

Sam swats away the hand that tries to attack his hair. "So what's his name gonna be?"

"Cas, duh," Dean replies. "A Cas can totally get laid."

"This is how you choose what to name a kid?" Sam groans, sinking into his seat. "What have I done?"

"Oh, give it up. Cas is a perfectly acceptable solution."

"People are gonna wanna know what it's short for," Sam says.

Dean shrugs. "People can suck it?"

"That's nice, Dean. Really nice."

He smiles. "It's gonna have to be Cas or it's gonna have to be Angus Young the II."

Sam looks into the backseat and waves. "Hey there, Cas."

Dean snickers. "Weak choice, bro."

"Okay, we should forge him a birth certificate as soon as we get to Saratoga. Make this all official before anyone asks."

"Check out the tree, fake some papers, buy a house," Dean recites. "Piece of pie."

"I think the expression is cake."

"Don't kill my buzz, Sam," says Dean. "Wanna listen to some Zep, kid?"

Dean takes Cas's silence and Sam's whine as unanimous approval.

_______________________________________________________________

Looking up, all Sam can think is—

"Damn, that is a big fucking tree," Dean says, stepping into the field. He's got Cas strapped to his chest in a baby carrier Sam bought three days ago.

"Language," Sam reminds him for the thousandth time.

"He's not gonna remember I said fuck." Dean grins. "Twice."

"He will if you don't get out of the habit of doing it every three words."

"Whatever, it won't hurt him." Dean takes Cas's hand and Cas looks up at him, blowing a spit bubble. "The big bad word's not gonna hurt you just 'cause Sammy's got his panties in a knot, is it?"

The bubble pops.

"See? Cas is on my side."

Sam marches on. "What do we do now?" he asks, feeling the trunk of the massive tree for some kind of instruction. "We can't touch the actual grace, right? Without hurting ourselves?"

"I don't think so. I mean, not if it burns out people's eyes or whatever."

"Then our only option is to, what? Guard it? Wait until he's old enough, tell him about his past and let him choose?"

Dean shrugs. "Should make sure it's even here first." He steps up to the tree and Cas puts a hand out immediately, drawn to it. As soon as his palm touches the bark he starts to glow, white light pouring off him just enough to be noticeable. For one unbearable moment, Sam thinks it's game over. Cas will get his grace back and that will be the end of that.

But then he pulls his hand away and burps.

Dean smiles fondly and claps Sam on the shoulder. "Guess that settles that. Let's go commit fraud and settle down, eh?"

Something about the way his smile lights up his face, or the easiness in the words, or the way his hand curls in the fabric of Sam's shirt makes Sam's heart attempt to float away in his chest. In a moment of terrifying clarity, he realizes he's in love with his brother.

_______________________________________________________________

Because Dean is good—really, really, scary good—at faking identities, Cas is registered with a social security number and papers before they settle down to sleep for the night. Sam has a 743 credit score before noon the next day, good enough to sign off on a house without anyone blinking an eye, but not enough to make it suspicious. They find the closest home for sale they can—just a few blocks away from the tree, guaranteed no problem to get there if the need ever arises—and call the realtor to give them a tour. It's a nice house, brick and wooden floors and shutters on the windows.

It's all very strange.

Moving in takes fifteen minutes. Three trips from the car with duffels and baby bags hanging off their shoulders; Sam's careful to only take what he can hold without putting Cas in danger of getting hit by a bag. The house seems too big this empty, so Dean gets them a room at the local motel until they've gotten the place ready to be lived in.

The first thing they buy is a crib. Sam spends the next three weeks taking care of Cas and furnishing the house (Dean's calling it decorating, but there's a difference) while Dean finds hunts in the surrounding area and keeps doing what Dean does best. Sam helps with the research side of Dean's hunts when he can, but he's finding it increasingly difficult to be useful, what with the fact that he suddenly wants to jump his brother's bones every time he's in the same room. Sam figures Dean would rather deal with the jobs on his own than have to find out about that little fact.

It's nice. Not something Sam has thought about or wanted for a long, long time, but it's exactly what he needs now that hunting is out, and Dean gets that. Doesn't make more fun of Sam than he's required to. Even seems to be less excited to leave than to get home some days, but maybe Sam is imagining that. Sam has to be imagining that.

He spends the first two weeks making sure the house is safe—though Sam doesn't even know that babyproofing exists until Dean comes out into the yard and asks why Cas was trying to lick the light sockets. Sam's safety rituals are a little more in line with real world problems: devil's traps, Enochian sigils, charms and traps, silver and iron. He does his best to cover them, carves the sigils onto the fence posts and hides them behind rose beds. He does his best to forget they're there and convince himself that his greatest worries have to do with light sockets.

But he's not an idiot. There's a ring of salt buried in their lawn, and Sam's willing to let the grass die if that's what it takes. He gets around to making things look nice after he's sure they won't be torn to shreds in their sleep, and Sam would be lying if he said he didn't think he was kind of good at it.

"Wow, Martha Stewart, sparing no expense, are you?" Dean comes in from his hunts caked in dirt and blood and God knows what else, and Sam tries not to let his distress show. "How much of my money are you spending on this shit, anyway?" Dean picks up a vase and peers through it before putting it down on the mantle carelessly, leaving a muddy smudge where his fingers held it.

Sam follows and steadies it before it can fall. "Your money?" he asks. "You know you're not bringing in any money, right?"

Dean peers at him over one shoulder as he holds Cas up in the air. "Who got you those credit cards you're buying all this shit with again?"

Sam scoffs. "Hardly counts as a hard day's work."

Dean turns back to the baby. "Do you hear how he treats Daddy? I don't even come home to a warm meal."

"I fed Cas," Sam points out. "He won't take your side."

Dean shrugs. "He's less than a month old, what does he know?"

Sam passes Dean on the way to the kitchen and grabs Cas out of his arms. "Enough to have figured out which one of us will let him starve to death if there's a Dr. Sexy marathon on TV."

"He wasn't gonna starve to death, I was waiting for commercials."

Sam swallows the laugh. "Spaghetti and meatballs tonight?"

Dean's lips curl into a slow grin. "Oh, Sammy, you spoil me."

Sam stares at the smile a moment too long before he can break his gaze. "Uh, I'm gonna go put this guy in his crib. Could you get the water boiling?"

Dean nods, moving to grab a pot out of the cabinet. "I've been thinking of getting a job," Dean calls up when Sam is making his way back down to the kitchen.

"That's generally what one does when they've just finished a hunt."

Dean is stirring pasta on the stove when Sam gets back. "Not…I mean, I didn't mean it like that."

Sam bumps his hip against Dean's and Dean hands over the stirring spoon, sliding out of Sam's way. "Beer?"

"I'm good," Sam replies. "So how did you mean it, then?"

"Just, you know. A real job. Here in town. One that pays money."

Sam stops worrying about his pasta to give Dean a much more worried look. "Like a steady job?"

"Yeah!" Dean says with a bright, easy smile. "A steady job."

"Without hunting?"

Dean confirms.

"Are you feeling quite all right, Dean?"

"Yeah, I just thought maybe, I mean, I don't know."

"Oh, right," Sam says slowly. "Maybe, I mean, I don't know. Definitely the kind of clear thinking one should shape major life decisions around."

Dean sighs. "Blow me."

Sam grins. "You know, I'll be honest, I wasn't even sure you were capable of that kind of intense cerebral activity."

"Blow me, Sammy."

"It's just such a rough brainwave you were riding there. I hope you didn't strain anything."

"I said 'blow me.'"

"And, to conclude, the intellectual powerhouse offers—"

Sam flourishes at Dean just as Dean gives him one last, passionate, "Blow me."

He turns back to the stove to hide the fact that his mouth can't help smirking. It's lucky timing, anyway. His noodles are ready. "Please continue with your riveting tale of the deep river of logical thinking you were paddling through as you bashed through a ghoul's head this morning."

"It was a goblin and I set him on fire," Dean sniffs loudly, "it's like you don't even listen to me."

He says something else, too, but Sam's focusing on pouring hot water into the strainer instead of his hand, so he doesn't catch it.

"See, that's exactly what I mean."

"What?" Sam asks, lifting his head and giving Dean a guilty smile.

"You don't want to hear about my hunts when I get home," he says, only a little accusatory.

Sam flushes. "It's not that it's just—"

"No, it is that. And if you don't even wanna hear about them, what makes you think I wanna go through with them?"

Sam shrugs, pulling red sauce from the fridge. "You love hunting."

"I did. I do." Sam freezes and looks at Dean, really looks at him for the first time since he got home. He's got his hands buried in his pockets and, shit. A look on his face like he's really not kidding. "It just sucks to do it alone, I guess. Or…it wasn't so bad when I thought it was all I could do. But then after Lisa and Ben—well, I didn't suck at that. I mean, I did because you were…but not—"

"I get it," Sam says, letting him off the hook.

Dean huffs out a relieved breath and gives him a thankful nod. "What I'm trying to say here is that we can't keep hunting forever, that was never an option, not even before you were…"

"Again," Sam says, a little cooler this time. "I get it."

"There was always something to run toward or from before, but now we're just two guys. Nothing coming for us, nothing we have to do. If we don't hunt, it's not such a big deal. World won't end. Plus, we've got the kid now and people who will notice if neither of us ever does an honest day's work and—fuck it, those are excuses. I just don't want to anymore, Sam. I'm sick of it. I wanna stay put for more than an hour and watch Cas grow up and not die in some alley somewhere chasing after monsters."

Dean is going to be safe. They're all going to be safe. Sam's not allowed to say out loud how worried he's spent the last year while Dean was hunting, he has to play it cool. His heart is beating out of control, but he doesn't pull his brother in for a hug or pump his fist into the air or shut him the hell up with a kiss. He pulls two plates out of the cabinet and gives Dean the best-contained smile he can manage. "So get a job then," he says. "I'm not your mom."

Dean smiles, hesitates before he moves aside so Sam can get the meatballs out of the microwave. "Wait, I, have another. How about you?"

"How about me?"

"I can stay home with Cas while you finish up school. You could be a lawyer for real. I mean, the schools around here won't be Stanford, but—"

"No." Sam's answer comes too quick and too harsh. Dean looks up shocked, and Sam relaxes a little. "It's not that I'm scared to go out on my own"—it is, Dean knows it is—"I just don't really want that anymore. Haven't for a while. I like what I've been doing, Dean."

Dean smiles dimly, takes the meatballs out for Sam and gives his shoulder a careful slap as he hands them over and walks to the table. "All right, Sam, if that's what you want. Just don't start quoting The Feminine Mystique at me when you realize you're my housewife."

Sam is caught so far off guard he forgets to protest the wife comment. "How do you even know what The Feminine Mystique is?"

Dean grins. "Do you have any idea how many women studies majors you meet in college bars, Sammy? Namedrop some of that crap and they'll forget they hate you for having a dick in a heartbeat."

"And then you promptly remind them the next morning?"

"Guilty as charged," Dean says proudly. "Where's the cheese?"

Sam shakes his head but reaches for the parmesan anyway. "You're disgusting."

"Not my fault their icy hearts melt for a piece of this," Dean says through a slurp.

Sam takes a little bit of comfort in the fact that he has spaghetti dangling from his mouth and looks like a moron. Then he imagines licking the sauce off Dean's chin and his body flushes with warmth. He coughs into his hand. "Just shut up and eat your dinner."

_______________________________________________________________

Dean gets a job after a month and a half of sitting around on the couch and sleeping too much. He insists it's a hard economy, Sam insists he's not trying hard enough, and the reality of it is probably somewhere in the middle. It doesn't actually matter, Sam doesn't mind having him around, Cas certainly doesn't mind getting twice as much attention, and the credit cards hold out until he's employed.

He gets hired by a mechanic, a reliable job Sam knows will make him happy, and drives by Cas's tree every morning. He says he waves to it, too, but Sam's pretty sure he isn't serious. They settle into it pretty easily, though there are times Sam misses the open road and he can tell Dean feels the same. He comes home from work, soaked in car grease, and spends an hour taking his guns apart and cleaning them while Sam makes dinner. Sam likes to think these are just growing pains, and they'll both be over them soon.

By the time Cas is crawling, they've got a routine. It still involves holy water and late nights, but no one's genuinely worried. Not really. Not usually.

Sam wakes at 2:30 a.m. from the worst nightmare he's had since Castiel's last visit. Dean on a ceiling and Cas in his crib, and Sam's matted with sweat, but there's still a chill running down his spine. It's then he remembers it's Cas' six month birthday, and Sam swears there's a creaking sound coming from the hall.

He tells himself to calm down. There's no way. But his instinct says get the hell out of bed, and it's the instinct he listens to. Sam grabs a water gun full of holy water from the drawer next to his bed and heads to the next door over. One look into Cas' room shows nothing; Cas is fast asleep, the windows are still lined with salt, there's no one in there. Nothing to worry about, he tells himself again, but he might as well go downstairs and check. Make sure none of his protective measures have been broken. Just in case.

He meet's Dean in the hall, and they fight. Sam sprays Dean before he notices who he's aiming the gun at and has to wrestle Ruby's knife out of his brother's hand before it takes his head off.

Sam pushes Dean against the wall and holds his wrist too tight until Dean relents, dropping the weapon. It's not until he's calmed down that he looks at Sam and realizes what was happening. He lets out a breath, of relief or amusement or both, and sinks to the floor when Sam lets go of him. Sam joins him, picking up the knife and laughing at the way his brother's cradling his hand.

"Ow," he says. "That hurt, you dick."

"You were trying to stab me," Sam says, still laughing a little.

Dean finally laughs, too. "What were you doing in there, anyway?"

Sam swallows hard. "I, uh. Couldn't sleep."

"Yeah," Dean agrees. "Me neither."

"Did you…?"

"Everything's okay downstairs," Dean says.

Sam lets his head drop back in relief, rests it against the wall. "Good. That's good."

"We should. Go back to bed, I guess."

"Yeah," says Sam. "Yeah, we should."

They sit there, neither making a move to go.

"I think we should get a dog," Dean says after some time.

Sam doesn't know where it's coming from or why the hell Dean's bringing it up at 2 in the morning, but hey. "A dog?"

"A puppy," Dean elaborates. "For Cas. He's crawling now. He can have a dog crawling around with him."

Sam shrugs. "I always wanted a dog."

"I know," Dean says, a little quieter.

"What kinda dog?" Sam asks, just because the lull is getting uncomfortable.

"I dunno," Dean says. "I was thinking of stopping by a pound or something tomorrow. Picking up the first one that sticks out."

Sam feels himself smiling. "Yeah, okay."

"Really?"

"Yeah!" He sits up and catches enough moonlight to see his brother's face. "I'm kind of excited."

Dean grins, and Sam can't help moving forward, putting a hand on the side of his neck. It would be so easy to kiss him, but when Dean takes a deep breath and holds it, Sam realizes he's probably making Dean uncomfortable. He slaps the side of Dean's face gently, rising to his feet and hoping Dean won't wonder why the touch went on so long. "It really is bedtime, then, huh? I mean, we're not getting anything done out here, and you have work in the morning."

Sam feels Dean's hand grab for his ankle and turns back to catch Dean looking up at him with a weird expression on his face. "Sammy?" he says, almost whispering.

"Yeah, Dean?" Sam offers him a hand up and Dean takes it.

Dean's staring at him again, so close Sam has to turn away. He looks shaken, like he's scared or wants to ask for something, and Sam really hopes he's not freaking out because he figured Sam out. He licks his lip and then shakes his head. "Forget it. I was—"

"Forget what?"

Dean lets out a shaky laugh. "I'm not sleeping tonight," he admits, though Sam has a feeling he's not really saying what he'd been planning to a minute ago. "Not really."

Sam nods, leaning against the wall. "I don't think I am, either."

Dean reaches out, pushes the door to Cas's room open between them. "Wanna pull up some chairs? Try sleeping in shifts?"

The corners of Sam's mouth lift up. It's stupid, and on some level he's pretty sure they both know that. But it's nice to know he's not the only one wary of six month birthdays. "Sounds good," he says. "Rock, paper, scissors for who goes first?"

"I'll go first."

"Aww, chickening out 'cause you know you'll lose," Sam teases. "What happened to the big, strong hunter in you, Dean?"

Dean rolls his eyes and shoves Sam into the room, taking the better chair before Sam can beat him to it. He pulls a shot gun full of rock salt onto his lap from under Cas' cradle and settles in next to Sam. Sam smiles into the scratchy pillow on the armchair he's in, a $20 buy from a garage sale they'd stopped at when Cas was throwing a fit and Sam was going to kill them both if he didn't get out of the house for at least an hour. He feels stupidly safe and happy, neck cramps notwithstanding.

_______________________________________________________________

Dean gets home later than usual the next day, his arms full of a squirming ball of fur.

"You weren't joking, then? About the puppy?"

"I never joke about serious things, Sammy," Dean says with a grin. "What do you think?"

He holds the dog out. It yips and Sam would swear it's smiling. It's big for a puppy, obviously bound to be huge once he's grown up, which is exactly what Sam was hoping for. His ears are floppy and he's got black spots over brown fur, and Sam would want to steal him if he weren't already technically his dog.

Sam reaches out, putting a hand between the puppy's ears and giving its head a good rub. "What's his name?"

"Are you ready for this?" Dean pauses. "Fido."

"Fido," Sam says incredulously. "Are you kidding me?"

"I know, right? What do people even get paid to do at the pound? 'Cause it's not naming dogs."

Sam doesn't even know where to begin, and he's pretty sure Dean's trying to get a rise, so he lets that one slide. "So what are we really gonna call it?"

He's rewarded for his restraint by a disappointed look in Dean's eyes. "No pouting? No forty-minute spiel on the plight of the animal worker and how they deserve my respect?" Dean sets the puppy down and picks Cas up instead. "You're not no fun anymore. It's breaking my heart." Cas greets Dean with a palm over his face, and Dean laughs as he dislodges the little hand. "Hello, good sir? How are you today? Did you see your new friend?"

Cas points at The Puppy Formerly Known as Fido and claps, and Dean sets him back down on the floor. The dog sniffs for a few seconds, Sam tenses, ready to intervene if it goes badly, but then the puppy is the one being climbed on and it seems to be adjusting to its lot in life fairly generously.

"He kinda looks like Sputnik!" Sam says watching as Castiel flops his body over the dog's back. "More white, but…let's call him Sputnik."

"Sputnik? That sounds like a potato."

"It's not a potato." Sam remembers to rein in his attitude. Dean wants to annoy him. Sam is going to be the bigger person. "It's a dog."

"I know who Sputnik is," Dean replies. "Why don't we just call the dog Commie?"

"I don't see you making any grand suggestions."

"I got the damn dog!" Dean defends.

"Yeah, well," Sam replies. "Until you think of something better, I'm calling him Sputnik."

Dean never does think of anything better.

_______________________________________________________________

If Dean's secret plan with getting the dog was to put Sam in a situation where he's forced to go outside on his own at least once a day, it works. At first Sam's nervous about it—sure, they've been living in Saratoga for six months and nothing bad has happened, but Sam hasn't really left the protective bubble of his house much, let alone without Dean. Still, it's good for him, he can secretly admit that much. Cas loves going out regularly, not just on weekends when Dean is home, and Sam starts getting to know neighbors, even has a few casual friends.

He makes it a point to spend at least an hour outside with the dog every day unless it's raining, and after a couple of months he's comfortable enough to go grocery shopping and run quick errands during the day while Dean's at work.

He changes the routine on Halloween, though, just goes for a stroll around the block before Dean gets home so he can spend the time he's usually outside getting ready. Cas isn't old enough to trick-or-treat, and Sam knows Dean will never let him hear the end of this, but he's stupidly excited anyway and can't help himself.

"Honey, I'm home," Dean calls from the door. Sam hears Sputnik's claws scratching on the floors as he runs to greet him. "What's up, Trotsky?"

Sam pads into the living room with Castiel in one arm. "Hey, Dean."

Dean stares, a look of abject horror on his face, and blinks about once a minute. Finally he steps forward and says, "What the hell did you do to our child?"

Sam smiles. "Is this the cutest thing you've ever seen or what?"

Dean pokes at the costume as if the fabric will bite him. "Where did you even get a trench coat this small?" he asks. "Please, please tell me you did not sew it. Sam, the cooking channel is one thing, but—"

"I don't watch the cooking channel!" Sam says with way too much conviction. Dean doesn't know, Sam's pretty sure. There's no way he can know. He can't prove anything. Sam coughs and tries to relax. "I mean, why would I watch the cooking channel?"

Dean gives him an 'I'm on to you look.' "Oh, right. The 'internet' taught you all those recipes."

Sam nods.

"And Paula Deen had nothing to do with your sudden passion for butter."

Sam raises an eyebrow. "Hate to say it, man, but if you know who Paula Deen is, I may not be the one guilty of cooking channeling here."

Dean tsks. "You forgot to change the channel before you turned it off last week. And you know I've learned how to use the TiVo, right?"

"Oh, whatever!" Sam says. "Like you aren't enjoying it."

Dean smiles triumphantly. "I am. Just had to hear you say it. Now, give me the holy tax accountant. We have more important issues to discuss."

"And what are those?"

"Did you sew this costume? Because if so I am throwing you out and buying a new brother. Cooking is one thing, but this…this is well made, Sam. I cannot have it in my house."

"It's probably worse than that," Sam admits, letting Dean take Cas.

"What could be worse than the thought that while I'm at work all day, getting all manly and covered in sweat, my protégé is at home, crying over Nicolas Sparks movies and sewing?"

"I didn't sew it," Sam says. Dean lets out a relieved breath. "I, uh, bought it online."

"That's not so bad," Dean says.

Sam covers his face with one hand. "From a Supernatural fan website."

Dean's eyes get bigger; he looks down at Cas with disgust. "Oh, for shame, Sammy."

"I know, I know!" Sam laughs a little hysterically. "It's just…I really wanted to try the joke out. And I couldn't find anyone who would sell me a trench coat that small and then I remembered that Chuck's publisher had printed a few books even after he told her not to, and I wanted to see if anyone had thought of this, and they had and…" Sam lifts his hands.

"Just stop talking," Dean says. "Just stop. You know I'm never going to let you hear the end of this, right?"

"Yeah, I figured."

"Good," Dean says, bouncing Cas on his side. "As long as we're clear."

Sam sticks his tongue out. "Whatever, I hate you. I want to leave the house at 7, so if you plan to shower or get in a costume, I suggest you do it while I make dinner."

"Well, obviously I'm dressing up," Dean shifts his weight and gives Sam a piercing look. "Are you dressing up?"

"Of course not," Sam says. "You know I hate Halloween."

"Awful lot of trouble to go through for a holiday you hate?"

Sam pokes Cas in the tummy and gives him a kiss on the forehead. "Aww, but look how happy he is." He stands up and smiles at Dean. "And if you think this is bad, you should see the costume I've got waiting for the dog. That one I made myself."

"You have too much time on your hands," Dean says.

"Well, obviously," Sam replies heatedly, and Dean winces, realizing he said the wrong thing.

"No, look. It's great. I think it's great. What's the dog gonna be?"

Sam averts his eyes, feels his cheeks burning. "I might have made him a cardboard spaceship."

Dean laughs like it's the best thing he's ever heard. "All right, you freak. Go make me dinner. But next year I'm doing costumes."

"The kid's getting wings and a halo and Sputnik is going to be Che Guevara," Sam guesses.

"You suck," Dean says. "Now I'm not even excited."

"Will it make you feel better if I pretend to forget this conversation ever happened?"

"A little," Dean admits.

"What if I agree to dress up next year?"

Dean grins. "Now we're talking."

"Cowboys, huh?"

"Stop guessing!" Dean says, throwing the hand that isn't holding Cas in the air.

Every few weeks, Dean still goes out. Sam's not surprised, not really, Dean was never good at abstaining and the fact that they've got a kid doesn't really change much. Sam's always around to watch Cas. Dean's got no ties. The only difference is that Sam gets unreasonably jealous now when Dean's hookups used to produce only amusement or the occasional annoyance when Dean didn't focus enough on a job.

There's a knock at Sam's bedroom door, and Sam jolts up, only realizing he was half asleep when he sees Dean in the doorway. "Did I wake you?"

Sam sits up, looking around. The TV is buzzing with some documentary about the Civil War Sam's only half-heard. He smiles at Dean, and allows himself to think that Dean looks gorgeous, because he's still fuzzy from sleep and not at all in his right mind. "I'm up," he says, but it slurs into one syllable.

Dean laughs. "Sorry, man."

Sam shakes his head. "No, no, I should probably change and brush my teeth and stuff anyway." He rubs his eyes and yawns. "Did you have a good night?"

"Yeah," Dean says, relaxing against the frame of Sam's door. "You?"

"Fine," Sam says.

"Cas sleeping?"

"Miraculously. There was a marathon of that farm show he likes so much on earlier, the one that's literally just farm animals making farm animal sounds." Sam shudders. "I thought he would never fall asleep."

"The horror," Dean says.

"Mmm, you should see my battle scars."

Dean fidgets uncomfortably in the doorway, and Sam wonders if he should invite him in. But obviously Dean knows he doesn't need permission to come into Sam's room, so if he's in the doorway, that's where he wants to be.

"You meet any girls at the bar?" Sam asks, trying to sound uninterested.

"A couple," Dean replies, cocky grin that's all Dean and Sam wants to die. He has no right to be upset, obviously, but all he can think on nights like this is, I bought you that bed, how can you bring some girl home to it?, as if he's Dean's cuckolded wife and not his brother who should give not one damn who Dean does or does not sleep with or where he does it. "But, I uh. I dunno. Wasn't really feeling it."

Sam manages to refrain from looking too happy about it. "Maybe next time?"

Dean shrugs. "Whatever. I'm getting too old for this shit." He kicks the doorframe lightly, and Sam decides to cut Dean's foot off if there's a scuff there tomorrow.

He frowns. Ever since Lisa and Ben, Dean's not really been himself with girls. A distant ache pulls at Sam's chest, and he thinks of Jess, of how long it took him to accept he wasn't gonna get that again and of how much he would give for Dean not to have to feel that way. "If you want to go back to them," Sam finds himself blurting out, "now that you really are safe and she won't remember any of the…Cas would be better off with a real family."

Dean's eyes flash. "I thought we weren't gonna talk about that."

"I know, it's just—"

Dean finally takes a few steps into the room, sits on the opposite side of Sam's bed. "Sam, I'm not going to pretend that wasn't great while it lasted. But it's over now. And…we're Cas' family. This is a real family."

"But you—"

"Anyway, I just stopped by to say goodnight," Dean interrupts. "So, goodnight."

Sam watches him stand and thinks, stay, please stay, oh god, don't leave. He can't bear the idea of Dean going to bed angry at him just because he couldn't shut up for five seconds. Dean doesn't hear his silent pleas, and Sam manages to hold them in until Dean has one foot out the door.

"Hey," he says. Dean stops and turns to look at him, clearly worried about what stupid thing Sam will say next. Sam smiles apologetically and lifts the hand he's holding the remote in. "Wanna stay and watch some TV for awhile? I'll let you control the remote."

Dean's smile begins as a quiet one and spreads slowly. "Really?"

"I mean, I was planning to watch Lifetime all night, but I can compromise."

Dean laughs, sitting back on the bed and grinning. He stays until well past midnight, and it's familiar and comfortable and new all at once. Dean's default is to stop on anything that has something blowing up as he channel surfs, so they end up watching Die Hard, making commentary until Sam's too tired to talk and Dean notices and lets him rest.

Dean comes up the next night with a beer for each of them and this time he hears Sam's silent begging, stays without being asked. It's stupid: they have a bigger TV with an impossibly comfortable couch downstairs, but sitting here on top of the blankets, still in street clothes, and getting buzzed—it makes Sam's room more like a motel than anything. Somehow, after 8 months of living in it, that's the first time Sam really feels home.

_______________________________________________________________

There's a bark from the door and then the telling, "Good evening to you, too, Comrade Stalin. Committed any human rights offenses today?"

Sam's already in the living room watching cartoons while Cas crawls around on the floor. Dean walks further into the room and gives Sam a nod in greeting.

"I don't know about human rights offenses," Sam says turning on the couch. "But he did chew your shoes."

Dean stoops down and begins to play with the dog, letting Sputnik lick his face. "Why do you hate America, Comrade?" he asks as a tongue swipes over his right eye.

"Why must you do that every time?"

"Do what?" Dean asks innocently.

"The dog name thing!" Sam complains. "You're only going to confuse him."

"He always knows who I'm talking to."

Sam shakes his head, allowing a laugh. "What are we going to do if he goes missing? I can see the signs already. 'Answers to Sputnik and Comrade Stalin.'"

"And Toto," Dean offers helpfully. "I tried that the other day just to see if he would go for it. That dog'll give it up for anything, Sam."

"Did you try Lassie, too?"

"Yeah, that's the only one that didn't work. He turned tail and ran off for his food dish. I think he wanted to be sure I didn't confuse him for someone helpful."

Sam shakes his head. "You are disturbed in every possible way."

"At least our dog will get found," Dean points out. "Who's going to forget a sign that says, 'Call it what you want, our dog is a name slut'?"

"In some weird, twisted way that makes good sense." Sam pauses. "Oh, God. You're making sense. I must really need to get out."

"I've been wondering about that lately, actually," Dean admits, dropping onto the couch and kicking his feet up on Sam's coffee table. Sam tries to glare them off, but Dean doesn't notice. "Don't you ever get tired of being stuck with just me and these brats for company?"

Dean points at the 'brats' and Sam glances in the direction he's indicating. Cas is drooling on a building block and Sputnik is knocking things over with his nose. There's nothing in the world Sam would rather be looking at.

"Come on." Dean claps Sam on the back, encouraging, and Sam can see where this is going. "Let me stay home and watch him, give you a night off. I promise not to break anything."

Sam sighs. He knows Dean, and Dean is not going to give up on this. If he's decided it's time for Sam to face the world, the real world, not the dog-park-and-then-back or the sure-I'll-go-to-a-restaurant-in-town-but-only-if-you-come-too world, it's time. Anyway, Sam is getting a little high strung lately.

"I've got a few friends who live down the block," Sam says. "Their retriever and Sputnik play at the park sometimes, so we talk. They've invited me to dinner a few times."

Dean grins. "Fantastic! Next time, you take them up on it."

Do I have to? Sam wants to ask but instead he nods.

The next offer comes a few days later. Sam goes over to Julie and Tim's place for a Thursday night dinner thing they have every week. There are a few other couples, and Sam feels awkward immediately when he realizes he's odd man out. Still, he makes good conversation, meets some nice people, gets another invite for next Thursday from Julie when she's escorting him to the door at the end of the night.

"I'm sorry if I didn't make it clear—we didn't mean to make you come alone. There's a girl named Sophie across the street from you guys who babysits, she's a sweetheart. I can get you her number if you want to bring your boyfriend next time."

Sam's eyes nearly explode out of his head. "My—who?"

"Your boyfriend," she says, leaning in with a pretty, sly smile. "Come on, Sam. We all know."

Sam swallows hard. It's not like it's surprising that people think that, it's not like people haven't been thinking it pretty much since Sam turned 16. It never used to bother him. In fact, it used to amuse him just because of how freaked Dean got. Now it hurts.

"No," Sam says. "He's not my—I mean, we don't…"

"Are you sure?" she asks, eyebrows crawling up her forehead.

As if Sam isn't painfully aware of just how much he is not fucking Dean. "Pretty sure I'd remember."

Julie laughs. "Oh, well, then. Sorry! To, uh. That mistake." She shrugs. "You can still bring him along if he wants to come."

Sam envisions Dean sitting in a room full of middle aged couples playing charades, getting drunk on wine and hitting on married women in front of their husbands. It garners a chuckle, definitely a mental image worth saving, but it's still probably the worst idea in the history of bad ideas (including the time Dean came home with the pineapple and the neighbor's lawnmower back when Sam was in high school, and that turned out to be a pretty terrible idea).

"Thanks, but, uh, Dean's not really the type. He'd probably never forgive me if I made him come to something like this." He realizes how that came off the moment it's out of his mouth. "I mean, not that this wasn't lovely! It was! Dean just can't hold a real conversation for five minutes at a time."

"Ah," she says, clucking her tongue. "Well, you two like poker?"

"Actually, yeah."

"Tim and a few of these guys play every few Sundays. I'll make sure to let you know when they're due for it."

"Sounds great. Thanks so much. For, you know. Inviting me to stuff."

Julie waves his gratitude away. "Our pleasure." Sam turns and she grabs his wrist. "You know, before you go. If you're really on the market, I have a friend who would be absolutely great for you. She's smart and funny. Her name's Amanda—I can invite her next time we do this."

Sam considers it for a moment, then remembers he hasn't so much as looked at anyone but Dean in so long it's kind of really pathetic. "I'm, uh, don't really, thanks, but—"

"It was worth a shot," she says, laughing a little. "Couldn't let a looker like you go without at least trying to do a friend a favor."

The last thing Sam sees is a wink and then he's on his way back down the street, glad he came out, but eager for the warm light he can see shining out through his living room window.

_______________________________________________________________

"Dada?"

"Daddy's at work," Sam mumbles. "You're gonna have to settle for me. Honestly. I do all the work and it's still Daddy you ask for."

Sam pauses. Reflects for a few seconds. Turns slowly to stare at Cas.

"Dada!" Cas says again.

"Oh my God!" Sam says. "Holy shit! You said something!"

Cas turns his head to one side and drools out some of his oatmeal. Sam wipes at his mouth. "Say, 'daddy,' Cas."

"Dada."

"Good enough! Now say 'papa.'"

"Dada."

"You suck," Sam tells him.

"Suck!" Cas parrots.

"Oh, lovely," Sam says with a sigh. "Come on. Say 'papa,' Cas."

"Transubstantiation."

Sam stares at Cas. "What…did…you…?"

"Dada?" Cas says again, no sign that anything out of the ordinary just happened as he grabs for the bowl in Sam's hand.

"Yeah," Sam says, still dazed. "All right."

He walks on eggshells after that, still a little creeped, but Cas is acting like a regular baby again with no signs of angelic residue, so Sam ignores it. And keeps trying to get Cas to say papa. Because, goddamn it, why does Dean get to be dad?

"I brought KFC," Dean announces on his way through the door. "I am the best ever. No, Fidel. The chicken is people food, not dog food."

Sam approaches with Cas and hands him to Dean as he takes the bucket. "He's been asking for you all day."

"Well, of course he has. He's a man of taste."

"No, Dean," Sam says, slow to make sure Dean picks up on the significance. "He has literally been asking for you all day."

"Huh?" Dean asks, just as Cas tries to climb onto his shoulder and cries, "Dada!"

Dean's eyes go wide, he begins to smile, and then his lips turn down. "I…I missed his first word?"

"His first three, actually." Sam gives him a sorry look. "But it was dada, not papa. That's something, right?"

"I guess," Dean says solemnly. "What was the other one?"

"The other two. He still hasn't said papa. I'm only a little upset."

Dean laughs, knocking Sam as he passes him. "So, what were they?"

"Suck," Dean grins and tries to high five Cas, "and transubstantiation."

"Transa-what now?"

"Transubstantiation. I think it was his highly religious way to tell me to hurry up and feed him."

"Sam, are you sure he wasn't just mumbling out baby talk and it sounded like that? I mean, as far as I'm concerned, that's not really a word."

"I wish I could convince myself that's what happened, but he sounded as clear as my theology professor sophomore year. It was terrifying."

"I wonder what other neat tricks he can do." Dean sits Cas in his high chair and gives him a penetrating look. "Can you fly, Cas? Because I could really use a trip to Hawaii, and planes aren't really for me."

Cas blows a raspberry.

"Just keep it in mind," Dean says. "Consider it with some of your other options, check your finances, and we'll see how you feel in January."

"Dean, why do you always insist on talking to him like an adult? You know he doesn’t get a word of it, right?"

"I guess not. Maybe," Dean says, turning to look at Sam over his shoulder. "But whenever I try to baby talk, I imagine Castiel doing that unimpressed staring thing he used to do. You know. The one where it was like: stare, stare, stare, blink, staaaaarrreeeee." Sam stares until he needs to blink, and Dean smiles. "Yes, that! Exactly."

"He can't fly," Sam says, ignoring Dean's continued attempts to recreate Castiel's staring. "He's not an angel. There are just a few things every now and then."

"I know," Dean says, his voice gentler than it needs to be. "I know that, Sammy, I was kidding around."

"Anyway, it was weird. I didn't like it. And I want to be Dad."

Dean snorts, slapping Sam on the back too hard. "I called dibs."

"You can't just call dibs. That isn't fair." Sam sounds petulant, every bit the little brother he tried to outgrow 10 years ago, and Dean deals with it exactly the same now as he did when Sam really was a whining kid. He ignores it.

"Cas, can you do me a favor here? Sammy wants a little attention. Could you say, 'mama' for him?"

"Papa," Cas says.

"See?" says Dean, sitting up. "He totally gets what I'm saying."

But Sam's not really paying attention to him. "He said papa!" Sam says, pulling Cas out of the chair and holding him up above his head, rubbing their noses together. "That's my good boy."

Cas coos as Sam lowers him. Dean smiles, but Sam realizes he still looks a little bummed. "You're gonna be learning to walk pretty soon, huh, little guy?" Sam looks up at Dean, making sure to meet his eyes. "You'll be here for that."

"Promise?" Dean asks, though Sam knows Dean doesn't really doubt him.

"Cross my heart and hope to—"

"Let's not tempt fate, Sammy."

_______________________________________________________________

"I know what you want from me," Dean says as Sam's hanging his coat. "You can't have it."

Sam feels a little prick of dread, but he continues through it, finds Cas sitting at the table with orange smeared all over his face, bib, the rug. Sam doesn't know why he bothers with the rug anymore. "I don't know what you're talking about," he says. He tries to think back on the last few days. He's been pretty good about hiding his crush, or at least he hasn't been any worse than usual.

"Oh, sure, play innocent. But I know you want this baby carrot," Dean points to the plate on the table where one last, uncrushed carrot has been spared Cas' wrath, "it's mine and you can't have it."

"You know I'm an adult now and that if either of us has to trick the other into eating vegetables, I have to trick you, right?"

Dean flicks him off. "I'm serious, though. These things are delicious. And so convenient. But there are none left for you. Tough break, dude."

Suddenly, Sam really wants to mess with Dean by taking that carrot. He slips his left hand onto Dean's back and leans in very close, placing his face on Dean's shoulder and whispering right against his ear, "Wanna know a secret?"

Dean's body goes rigid, he turns his face toward Sam's. "What's that?"

Sam smiles, snaking his other hand onto Dean's plate while his brother's distracted.

"It's my carrot now," he says, pulling away. He stands and takes a bite. "Wow, you're right, Dean. Very good carrot, thanks."

Dean grabs him and pulls him into a headlock. "Pain in the ass little brother."

"Stop it!" Sam says, flailing his arms. "You're going to teach our son violence and profanity all in one go."

Dean lets go of him with a shove. "Oh, yeah. Hide behind the kid, Sam. Real brave."

Sam tries to look innocent. "How was your night, Dean?"

"Eh," Dean says. "Pretty fun. We found some movie with talking dogs and cats and Chairman Mao—"

"Sputnik."

"Philemon," Cas offers with a giggle.

"No, Cas, dear," Sam says. "No naming the dog for you."

"Right, where was I? Oh, yeah. Ho Chi Min barked at it for like an hour."

"Wow, that sounds insufferable."

Dean gives Sam a flat look. "Not worse than your night. Was it wine tasting and trivial pursuit or cranium this time?"

"Bite me," Sam replies.

"Now, sit down. Watch this awesome trick I taught Cas."

"He's not a dog, Dean. You don't teach him tri—"

"Shh!" Dean says, waving a hand in Sam's face. He picks up a spoonful of crushed carrots. "You hungry?"

Cas nods.

"Want the carrots?"

Cas nods again, looking more annoyed this time.

"You can't have them."

"What? Dean, you can't pick on a two-year-old."

"Here, hold this," Dean says, sliding a Bible across the table until it's right in front of Sam. "Pick a verse, any verse."

Sam turns it over. "Where did we even get this?"

"I stole it from a nightstand in a motel back during the Apocalypse." Dean smirks as he lifts his head. Sam lets out a long breath and rubs at this temple. "Don't give me that look, it was useful!"

"But why is it at our table—?"

"Pick a verse!"

"Um." Sam flips the Bible open to a random page. "Leviticus 5:1."

"No, no. That Leviticus guy was an asshole. Pick something else."

Sam chuckles as he flips through more pages. "When did you become a Bible scholar, Dean?"

"So much free time, Sammy," he whines. "I don't know how you do it all day every day. This house gets boring when it's just me, Lenin, Cas, and cartoons. Now pick a verse."

"You missed me. That's sweet." Sam dodges Dean's playful hit by hiding behind the book and hopes that's not some kind of sin he's about to find out about. "Micah 6:8?"

Cas begins to recite the passage word for word from the top of his head. Dean gives him the last of the carrots when he finishes.

"Wow," Sam says. "The whole thing?"

"The whole thing." Dean wipes Cas' chin off.

Sam turns to another verse and Cas recites that one, and another, and another until he realizes it's actually getting late, and, while Cas still seems to think the Bible is the greatest toy ever, Sam is going to scream the next time he hears anyone say 'lord.' "Bedtime," Sam announces.

"Aww," Dean and Cas say in unison.

_______________________________________________________________

Cas doesn't have nightmares. Or, at least, with his third birthday quickly approaching and not a single nightmare to speak of, Sam has taken it for granted that some side effect of his cosmic origins wards them away. Maybe the part of his brain that stored the entire Bible and can call upon it without even meaning to is too advanced to let something petty like a bad dream upset it. Or, God—God had looked out for Castiel before, maybe he was finally doing his part as a parent.

Maybe these were just things Sam told himself to try and forget the inevitable. When he hears the crying from down the hall, Sam automatically knows what it means. Deep down he's been dreading it for years.

Cas is sitting up in bed, tears streaming down his face, by the time Sam makes it to his room. He sits on the bed and scoops the toddler into his arms, and Cas buries his face in Sam's shirt.

"They're mad at me," Cas cries. "They're so mad."

"Shh," Sam says, trying to sooth Cas with a hand in his hair, the way Dean used to do for him. God, where the hell is Dean, anyway? He's much better at this stuff. "Shh, baby. What's wrong?"

"The man in my dream," Cas says, still crying. "He said I was bad and that my father was mad. He said they were going to kill me."

Sam hears the door opening and breathes out a sigh of relief. He sits back, settling Cas into bed, and shoots a look at Dean. Dean looks worried, but he seems to get what's going on as soon as he meets Sam's eyes. He nods and Sam makes room so the he can sit next to Cas, too.

"Hey, Cas," Dean says, pushing hair out of his face. "What's wrong, little guy?"

"They're gonna kill me," Cas says. "I'm scared."

"It was a nightmare," Sam tells him. "It was just a bad dream, Cas. No one's gonna hurt you."

"They are! They said so. My father is mad and he's going to hurt me."

Dean looks at Sam and Sam thinks he must be high, because Dean actually smiles a bit before turning back to Cas. "All right, here's what I want you to do. Next time you have a nightmare like this, you tell your father or your brother or your sisters, whoever's picking on you, you tell them that if your father even thinks of trying anything, your dads are gonna kick his ass. You got that?"

Cas nods, sniffling a little as he wipes at his eyes with the back of his hand.

"Good," Dean says, leaning in to press his lips to Cas' forehead as he tucks the toddler in. "No more waking us up with this, okay?"

"Okay, daddy," Cas says.

Dean stands and goes, waiting by the light switch at the door for Sam to join him. Sam stays seated a few seconds longer. Cas has burrowed under the covers, and while he seems pacified in regards to the nightmare, it's obvious he's still shaken. "You wanna come sleep with papa tonight?"

Cas peeks up over the covers. "Can I really?"

"Yeah," Sam says, pushing the covers away and pulling Cas up out of bed. "Come on, let's go get all rested up."

"Is daddy coming, too?"

Sam laughs, almost considers asking Dean if he wants to just to make Cas feel better, but Dean's already flicking off the light. "Nah, daddy has his own bed. He's not getting kicked by any little legs tonight." He grabs Cas' feet and brings them to his mouth, pretending to gobble them, which makes Cas giggle and squirm. "Night, you two," Dean says, patting Cas on the head one last time before turning down the hall.

Sam's not sure if the angels get Dean's message or if Cas just isn't scared by them anymore, but he never has a nightmare like that again.

_______________________________________________________________

"Big day," Dean says, hand on the steering wheel. He gives Sam a knowing look. "You all ready for it?"

"I don't know why you'd imply I wouldn't be," he says, opening the brown paper bag in his hand for the 80th time, just to make sure he packed it right. "Not like I didn't know he'd be going to school someday."

Dean smiles, wide and mocking. "Oh, I can see it happening already."

"See what, Dean?" Sam snaps. "Cas! What is taking so long?"

Dean chuckles and reaches across the driver's seat, grabbing Sam's hand. "Don't take it out on him, he's just a kid."

Sam sighs. "Take what out on who?"

"You've got Empty Nest Syndrome."

Sam laughs. "It's his first day of preschool, how could I have Empty Nest Syndrome?"

Dean just raises an eyebrow and Sam sinks down into the passenger's side of the Impala. "I just. God, what the hell am I gonna do all day if I don't have him to look after? What if he forgets about me? What if he likes his teacher better than me? Or—you don't think he'll get picked on, right?"

Dean laughs, and Sam realizes he's still got a hand wrapped around Sam's wrist. "Sammy, calm down. He remembers me and I go to work every day. You can find a hobby, or maybe help hunters do research like Bobby does. Or something, you'll figure it out. I won't even entertain the teacher thing, and I'm sure there's no such thing as bullies in preschool."

Sam takes a deep breath and exhales. "Yeah, I know. I know. It's just—"

"You're freaking out anyway." Dean grins. "I think that's what being a parent's about."

"You seem to be doing fine," Sam retorts, maybe just a little bitter at how easy Dean seems to have it when Sam actually might work himself into a heart attack.

Dean's eyes go soft and his smile dims. "I've sent a kid off to preschool," he says. "Though, let's hope Cas turns out cooler than that little loser did."

Sam returns his brother's smile. "Thanks, Dean."

Dean rolls his eyes. "Go find out what's taking that little terror so long."

Cas is standing off to the side, in the grass next to the driveway, peering down at his shoes.

"Falling in love with your feet, Cas?" Sam asks.

Cas looks up. "My shoes came loose on the stairs and I tied them myself. Just like you taught me!"

Sam laughs, taking Cas' hand. "That's awesome. You'll be top of your class already."

"Okay, but I don't want to be too far ahead." Cas looks very serious. "Daddy says I don't want to be a geek."

"Don't listen to daddy, ever, okay?"

"Okay!" Cas skips next to Sam as they walk to the car.

The school is a seven minute drive from the house. Sam tags along just to see Cas off and walk him to the door.

"Looks like this is it," Sam says, kneeling down to grab Cas into a hug. "Are you ready?"

"Yup!" Cas says easily.

Sam frowns. "You sure? Because if you're not, you know, you don't have to be. You could always start next year and come home with papa."

"I'm going to make friends," Cas says, walking off into the room.

"Traitor," Sam mutters as he stands back up. There's a pretty lady with red hair who introduces herself to Sam as Cas' teacher, and after five minutes, Sam runs out of questions to ask and finally has to let go, walking back to the car.

"I'm proud of you, Sammy," Dean says in a mocking tone as Sam slams the door.

"Just shut up and drive," Sam replies.

_______________________________________________________________

Sam gets to know the other parents on mornings and afternoons when he's dropping Cas off. Mostly it's moms who are around, hovering just a few minutes extra as they learn to accept that their kids are growing up. In fact, Sam's pretty sure he's never seen another guy there alone.

He doesn't feel emasculated at all.

"I think it's great that you're willing to come do this," one of the mothers says, sliding up next to him as they watch the last fifteen minutes of playtime before they can take their kids home. Sam's talked to her a few times, usually in a group. Her kid is a little girl with blonde pigtails named Stacy.

"Willing to do what?" he asks, not turning to look at her.

"Admit you're just as terrified as we are. I mean, I know a bunch of the husbands all drag their wives out some days just to pretend they're the ones being moral support. But we're all freaking out, and it's great that you're willing to own that."

Sam shrugs. "Dean's the butch one," he says.

She laughs. "Your partner, I'm guessing? I've seen him hanging around the car. Nicely done, by the way, he is gorgeous."

Sam wants to say, yeah, I wish, lady but luckily the alarm sounds then, and Sam swoops into the crowd of preschoolers to grab Cas up. Cas has been loving school so far, spends an hour every day talking excitedly about all the things he's done or learned.

Dean waits until Cas is secured in the back seat and Sam is strapping himself in to turn down the music. "So, I saw that back there."

"Saw what?"

"You could be getting some serious single mom action right now."

Sam snorts. "She thought we were gay, Dean."

Dean's happy expression falls. "Oh." He smiles again, but it looks less amused this time. "What'd she say when you told her I was your brother?"

"I didn't tell her," Sam says. Dean gives him a look and Sam shrugs. "I didn't get a chance before the bell rang. Anyway, who cares?"

"I do." Dean's knuckles are white on the steering wheel, and he's driving so carefully Sam knows it means he's pissed. "God, it's like you want the whole town to think we're fucking."

"Dude, language." Sam points to the backseat. "You want him to say that at school tomorrow?"

"Whatever. We're talking about this when we get home."

"I don't know what there is to talk about."

Dean says nothing, turns back to the stereo and the road.

_______________________________________________________________

Sam sets Cas down on the floor as soon as they get home, giving him an encouraging push to the living room. "Cas, go watch some cartoons, okay? You can put them on as loud as you want."

Cas grins and runs for the door, stopping only to call Sputnik to follow him. The dog runs past Sam and Dean, and Dean walks into the dining room, then turns to face Sam. "I think I should leave."

Sam stares in shock for a full half minute before he finds his voice. "What? Where? What?"

Dean scrubs a hand over his face. "I don't know where, but I think I should go."

"Dude," Sam says. "Because I let one random lady in this entire town think we're fucking?"

"Because I'm in hell," he answers.

Sam laughs humorlessly. "Don't you think, in light of our entire lives, that might be a little melodramatic?"

Dean shakes his head. "No. I mean it. This is torture and I quit."

Sam's knees start shaking. He doesn't know if it's shock or hurt or anger, but he pulls a chair out and drops into it regardless of what's causing the reaction. "You. Wow. Okay. You know, maybe this isn't your dream, but you could be a little gentler here. I mean, fuck, I actually thought we were happy." He shakes his head. "I'm happy. I didn't realize we were torturing you."

"Don't play with me," Dean says, voice cool. "Don't act like you don't know what you're doing, not telling them. Letting everyone think—it's pretty passive aggressive and petty of you, Sam. 'Oh, haha, Dean, guess what this crazy lady at school today thought, sure was crazy of her.' I know you know, and I don't get why you're doing this, if you think it's going to make me confess or what, but fuck it. I'm leaving, so you can stop worrying about it."

"What are you—?"

"I know he told you."

"Who told me what?" Sam raises his hands. "Dean, what the hell are you talking about?"

"Castiel, he told you. The day he came and fixed you. I know he did, you've been acting different ever since. He took one look at me and knew and he spent his last five minutes clueing you in. Man, I love that kid to death, but if I could get my hands on that angel…" He shakes his head. "That day he tried to convince me to tell you, and a part of me suspected he'd already told you. So I know that's why you act like I'm going to jump on you if you get too close. I get it, believe me, I get it. But I can't live like this, Sammy."

"Can't live like what? Castiel didn't tell me jack. You should tell me whatever it is you think I know, and then we can have a conversation, because I feel like I'm only getting the least important half of this discussion."

"You're not wrong, you know. I'm almost happy. It's so close and that's the whole problem."

"The reason you can't stand to live like this is that you're almost happy? No, yeah. That makes perfect sense."

"It wasn't so bad before. When we never got anything we wanted, so what was one more thing to have to go without? But now…everything is so close to perfect, and it would be so easy to—everyone already thinks we are. Not just the neighbors and the parents at school. Even Cas is always asking why we can't all share a bed or why you and I don't kiss like the other parents and if it means we're getting a divorce like one of his little friends told him we were. It's the only thing screwing this up, and it's big enough that I can hardly enjoy the rest of this. I'd rather just leave and be miserable, Sam. I'd rather not have you at all than have to keep fighting this when you're right fucking there."

Sam pieces it all together, surprised that his mouth doesn't hit the floor. "You want me."

Dean looks away. "Of course I want you, man. I've always wanted you."

"You—you want me." Sam stands and takes a step toward Dean, suddenly feeling a buzz of energy power through him. "Dean, you want me. We're so stupid. We're so, so fucking stupid."

"What do—?"

Sam muffles Dean words with his lips, and Dean stands stock still for ten seconds before his brain seems to catch up. He has a hand tangled in Sam's hair in moments once he does start moving, and Dean doesn't kiss like anyone Sam has ever kissed. It's not a first kiss, it's not tentative, there's none of the regret or guilt Sam was afraid he'd find. Dean kisses like it's his life.

Sam pulls away. "Jesus, Dean," he mutters. "I stopped touching you because I was scared you'd figure me out."

"So you've—you've wanted this since—"

"Pretty much since we found Cas." Sam goes back in for another kiss and feels Dean smiling into it.

"I've wanted this forever," he mutters, but before his mouth crashes back on Sam's, there's a bark at their feet. "Not now, Sputnik," Dean says.

Sam pauses, forgetting about the kissing for a moment. "Hey! You just called him Sputnik."

Dean makes a face like he doesn't get it for a moment, then he frowns. "That doesn't count! You kissed me! It’s cheating. I call a do-over."

"No way!" Sam says. "After three years, I won! I named the dog!"

"Oh, whatever," Dean says, shoving Sam away. Sam refuses, holds onto him as he tries to fight his way free. He kisses Dean whenever his mouth gets close enough to land on his brother's skin. "Quit slobbering on me or I'll call you Sputnik."

"Daddy, I wanna play racecars."

Dean groans and looks down at Cas, who has apparently wandered back out of the living room. "Right now?"

"Right. Now." Cas answers, placing his hands on his hips and looking very stern indeed.

Sam laughs, resting his forehead on Dean's shoulder. "I should start making dinner anyway."

"Ugh, but we haven't even…" Dean looks at Cas again, remembering to censor himself. "Oh man, I am so not going to work tomorrow."

"You're going to call out of work so you can mess around with me all day?"

Dean grins. "You know it."

"How does one phrase that excuse, pray tell?"

"I'll just tell 'em I hurt my back and can't make it," Dean's lips curve up, slow and seductive, "won't even be a lie by the end of the day."

"Isn't that a little premature?" Sam asks.

Dean barks out a laugh, then leans in close and brushes his lips against Sam's for a moment. "I'm never premature," he teases.

Sam's entire body flushes. "God, stop talking about it and—"

"We can't. Your kid wants to play racecars, remember?"

"Oh, now he's my kid," Sam mutters.

Dean sweeps Cas up in one arm, throwing him over his shoulder. "That's right. Your little monster."

He begins to march toward the staircase, turning his back and Cas on Sam. Cas grins upside-down at Sam and waves as they disappear.

Dinner goes the way it usually does, and they end up putting Cas to bed early. They find themselves in Sam's room, sitting in the glow of the TV, much the same as every night. Only now they're making out and the TV is blabbering on unheeded, and Dean's hand is snaking up Sam's shirt, and Sam is really fucking okay with that.

"Nightmare," a little voice announces from the doorway. Sam and Dean break apart as Cas comes to the edge of the bed and climbs up and between them without anyone telling him to. Dean makes a whining sound and sinks back into the pillow on his side of the bed. Sam just hands over the remote; he knows defeat when he sees it.

Cas falls asleep after about half an hour. Actually they all do. Sam wakes up as the TV is shutting off and Dean is sitting up to go.

He smiles at Sam when he sees him waking up. "Dude, you weren't exaggerating," he says, sounding horrified. "That show literally is just animal sounds."

"Told you," Sam murmurs, half into his pillow. Dean bends over to give Sam a quick kiss and is careful not to wake Cas as he kisses the child's forehead.

"Time for bed, I guess," Dean says. "Was a pretty big day."

Sam rolls his eyes and tugs Dean's arm down. "Where do you think you're going?"

Dean smiles, even looks relieved. "Nowhere," he says, relaxing back down into the mattress. "Just try and make me."

He curls an arm protectively around Cas and brushes his fingers on the skin of Sam's thigh that he finds when his hand reaches the other side. Sam likes that so much he mimics the action, creating a wall around Cas. He places his hand on Dean's hip and they feel the bed shake as Sputnik jumps on at the foot, the last member of the house to settle down.

It's crowded and maybe even uncomfortable and Sam can't help thinking they have to be the weirdest family on the planet. Still, he can't imagine a better one.